Originally published at ProSoundNews
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA: The Metropolitan Opera, aka, “The Met,” in Philadelphia opened its doors in 1908, originally constructed at the behest of the theatre impresario Oscar Hammerstein I. The Met was an instant and grand success, quickly becoming the area’s preeminent opera and orchestral theater; its run lasted for decades. But as time wore on, the venue lost some of its luster and gradually, unfortunately, fell into ruin from neglect and eventually became defunct. The building was amess with holes in the roof and in its walls, and ceiling plaster falling everywhere and collecting on the floor beneath. The Met was literally falling apart. And yet, through the grace of musical fate, the inside of the venue remained operational enough for some of the bolder musicians and orchestras to use its stage as a rehearsal space. The Met remained in virtual ruin until 1995, when the local Holy Ghost Church began holding services there while helping to stabilize the building for their purposes. The church continues to hold services at the Met.
Beginning in 2017, a massive renovation project was initiated to bring The Met back to its former glory, with the purposeful and proper goal of keeping the original interior and exterior design style of the building intact. Intricate highlights like the design of the original plaster work and the gold-painted rosettes that rise up the 38-foot proscenium arch above the Met’s generous 94-foot-wide stage, were details not ignored. The 3,400-seat room is versatile in its ability to accommodate all types of audiences. The space becomes more intimate by curtaining off various sections of the two-level balcony which creates a room with a capacity of 2,700 or even 1,900. It all depends on the show. Also, 835 of the floor seats in front of the stage can be removed for standing room that brings the capacity for higher profile general admission shows to as much as 4,000.
Josh Sadd, chief engineer at Clair Brothers, describes the historic nature of older rooms such as the Met like this: “A lot of these rooms were made before sound reinforcement, and naturally the acoustics of a room like the Met are going to be excellent. Just in the realm of musicality, having a natural room is a great thing. Interestingly, the Met is a bit different in that it is not exclusively a music hall, club type venue. At its heart, it’s really a theater. The Met is unique in this way.”
The Met in Philly is a recent project by Live Nation, which operates many properties in the area, including the famous Fillmore, for which Clair Brothers was called on to provide a sound system in 2015. The back story of how Clair Brothers got involved with Live Nation stems from their relationship with Dustin Goen, consultant at K2 Consulting in Boulder, Colorado, who often works with the theaters and clubs-division of Live Nation. Mr. Goen called Mr. Sadd about the Met project with Live Nation after the success both had working together on the Fillmore. “There’s an instant comfort level between us and our companies,” explains Mr. Goen. After hearing the pitch, the Clair Brothers team evaluated the project and made suggestions on products, as well as an execution plan. Because Clair Brothers was involved in this project so early on, Mr. Sadd says that there is always a bit of a mystery, a risk factor, with renovation projects, especially for a sound company making a sale and agreeing ahead of time to move forward with a given refurb project. “The mystery is that one can never be quite sure in advance how the room acoustics will end up sounding given architectural variables and construction project phases.”
The Met’s original acoustics were designed for non-amplified performances, which made the mystery even deeper. Fortunately, the renovation teams made several smart acoustical decisions, such as hanging curtains to cover the side walls from front to back on all levels. They also treated the large open areas in ceiling areas with an acoustical treatment which provides a rich natural sound. Since the venue was originally non-amplified, the room itself retains its natural opera and amphitheater aesthetics. Says Sadd, “Add a great PA, and you’ve got a room with wonderful sound.”
The Met’s main PA is now the Clair Brothers stereo C12 line array with sixteen cabinets per side; eight iS218 double 18-inch subs flown per side; and eight CS218 double 18-inch subs beneath the stage. For sound reinforcement, Clair Brothers FF2 front fills, as well as, kiTCurve12 front fills are aimed underneath the balcony to the left and right sides of the stage near the front. Remaking the Met into a modern music venue for amplified music required dealing with balconies and box elements where the architecture has a tendency to obscure the clarity of sound in areas. Several time-delayed speakers were installed to fill out the frequency range under the balconies, on walls behind columns and inside the box seat areas. In the back of the room on the first level, where the intermediate Loge level balcony is situated, a series of kiTCurve12 under balcony speakers were installed in addition to sixteen P8s distributed around the balconies and box seats as fill speakers. On the Mezzanine level, there are three separate arrays of three kiTCurve12s as over-balcony delays. All speakers were very carefully time-aligned and equalized to provide seamless coverage and extra clarity throughout the entire room.
Upon installation and just prior to the Met’s grand opening, everyone involved, including Jim Devenney, senior systems designer at Clair Solutions, the project’s installation company, walked the room from the front row to the last. The results are beyond excellent. “In fact,” describes Sadd, “one of the guys from Live Nation told me that the best sound in the room was in the last seat. So, I checked it out and was impressed with how intimate, natural and clear the sound was. It pulls you in like you’re right there. You don’t feel far away at all!” And so it is that this historic room has new life as it comes right out of the gate making history again, today as a pop music venue, hosting none other than iconic songwriter and performer Bob Dylan as the first act on its stage, one-hundred and ten years after its doors opened for the first time. And for the newly-renovated Met in Philadelphia, this is just the beginning. And in December of 2019 the Met celebrated its first year of operation with the new renovation and is already ramping up to host more than 200 shows in 2020.